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Team Teaching: Older Kids Save the Day!

By Melissa Morgan
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #96, 2010.

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Melissa Morgan


Super-Parent: Simultaneously teaches high school calculus, middle school Shakespeare, and elementary school phonics to youngsters with special needs. In addition, Super-Parent’s preschoolers learn classical Greek, while the family maintains a pleasantly clean, attractive abode. Super-Parent has children who graduate with full-ride scholarships to prestigious universities as well as receiving multiple awards in sports and academics. Meanwhile, Mom or Dad is also building a successful home business and looks like a movie star!

Okay, I don’t know anyone who fits this description—so how can we ordinary parents survive and maybe even thrive?

Through the grace of God, homeschool support groups, and team teaching with siblings.

While writing my co-authored books Homeschooling on a Shoestring and Educational Travel on a Shoestring, I was privileged to interact with hundreds of homeschool families from a variety of backgrounds. Families consistently warned about the potential dangers and negative effects of homeschool burnout. Burnout occurs when we (and our kids) fall short of our unrealistic vision of Super-Parent; it is easy to give up, collapse in exhaustion and send our strong-willed youngsters back to the “experts.”

The solution is the same strategy that parents have used throughout recorded history. In strong families with many offspring, older children were expected to help look after and care for their siblings.

Mom or Dad teaches the oldest, and then the oldest, as a team teacher, passes on his or her knowledge to younger siblings. Mom and Dad provide the resources, monitor and guide the teaching. The eventual goal is for all children to become independent learners who know how, when, and why to seek help when they need it.

Team teaching is a huge responsibility, and it should be honored as such. While a parent teaches one youngster, an older sibling plays with and keeps another child safe. Often this occurs naturally; however, with purpose and planning, it can be optimized.

Apprenticeship, without responsibility as a team teacher, can begin very early; even the baby can play at teaching her toys, or imitate instructing her neighbors, friends, and cousins.

There are no perfect parents. However, effective, consistent discipline and character education is essential to avoiding homeschool burnout. Children must honor, respect and obey their parents. Younger children imitate and look up to older ones.

In order for a home to be a pleasant place to live and learn, everybody has to pitch in and help. For team teaching to be successful parents must teach children to be thankful, trusting, and obedient; on the other hand, a selfish child is never satisfied.

For an older child to be effective as a team teacher, he or she must have clear boundaries.

What are the limits of the older child’s authority, and how can that authority be enforced?

In our home, our younger children are allowed—always—to respectfully disagree and talk to us about anything that concerns them. However, we expect our children to talk respectfully, especially to those who are older and wiser than them, including siblings. There is no time to question a sibling who is saying “Come here now!” when a child is getting too close to the edge of the riverbank. Obedience must be instant and automatic, for the child’s own safety. Young charges must be expected to “do what I say, right away, and with a smile,” and ask questions later. Similarly, when an older sibling shows a younger brother or sister how to tell time or spell a word, the younger child should listen politely and with appreciation. Big brothers and sisters can also read to well-behaved siblings, and may even use a teacher guide to grade their assignments.

Effective team teaching need not always be about academics, however. Older youngsters teach when they show a younger child how to build a castle in the sandbox, identify a bird, take care of a pet, or catch a ball. With parental oversight, young people can teach their siblings to play musical instruments, pursue hobbies, make crafts, and participate in sports.

For families struggling to care for children with special needs, team teaching may seem unrealistic. Can a child with special needs participate in team teaching a younger sibling, if the younger is more advanced developmentally or academically? Look for opportunities to encourage strong areas in which the child excels. Perhaps your team teacher with special needs struggles with reading, but excels at math or music. Even in the case of a child with severe disabilities, the child does teach, although the instruction may be in ways that the world seldom values. Parents and siblings who have a family member with challenges can learn charity and patience, and that all life is valuable to God.

However, parents and siblings must deal with extra physical, emotional, and financial demands that come with challenges such as developmental delay, autism, ADHD, low vision, and auditory processing disorder. If parents find it demanding to raise a child with complicated medical, emotional, or educational needs, it can be especially difficult for siblings to cope. (Although in most cases, siblings take their “special” sibling in stride, and develop a unique understanding with them.) Parents and siblings may need to seek professional advice or counseling. However, families can gain strength through networking with other families who share similar struggles. Families with special needs can take turns team teaching, giving both parents and siblings a break. It is okay to ask for and receive help; there is strength in numbers.

We can reach out to grandparents and brothers and sisters in Christ, to strengthen our homeschool. Perhaps an older teen in the church or homeschool group can spare a few hours a week to act as a substitute sibling and team teacher. Many mature teens would be thrilled to be more than a babysitter, and the team teaching assignment could be added to the young person’s portfolio as work experience as well as homeschool service credit. If your team teacher is your own child, don’t forget to credit your child’s homeschool transcript; responsible volunteer work can make the difference to an employer or college acceptance committee.

Most of us, sometime in our years of homeschooling, struggle to find a joyful, balanced homeschool life. Learn more about how to avoid burn-out and discover flexible, realistic homeschool goals through Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s book, The Successful Homeschool Family Handbook: A Creative and Stress-Free Approach to Homeschooling. Dr. James Dobson, in his book Parenting Isn’t For Cowards, offers practical advice on enhancing family relationships and disciplining children in challenging situations.

We may not all be Super-Parent, and our kids might win few—if any—earthly awards. We all get discouraged, and have “bad days”—especially around the middle of the year, and coming back from holiday breaks. However, with God’s help and team teaching, we can accomplish the task of training up our child, “in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Our team teaching can bear fruit, both for our children, and for generations to come.


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